A home is at the center of one’s existence. It is essential for survival and serves as a point of connection between the individual and the community. Entanglement with the criminal justice system often has a profound effect on one’s ability to obtain or keep a home. Sometimes these collateral consequences are intended, appropriate or unavoidable. All too frequently however, collateral consequences are unintended by the court, unanticipated by counsel and pose an inappropriate barrier to the future success of those directly affected and their families. This is not just unfortunate for the individuals who suffer the consequences, but it creates unjustifiable burdens to society at many levels, not the least of which is the enormous drain on the public fisc that flows directly and indirectly from the inability to secure adequate housing.

Collateral consequences of criminal charges operate in both the public and private housing spheres. Public housing is often the housing of choice or the only viable option for vast segments of our population. Nationally, there are more than 4,000 public housing authorities that provide affordable housing to 6.5 million Americans. The largest of these authorities is the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which operates 346 public housing developments containing about 181,945 apartments which are home to approximately 535,000 low-income residents. Waiting lists are discouragingly long and growing. For example, in July 2002, there were nearly 300,000 applicants for NYCHA apartments alone. The vacancy rate of apartments available for occupancy was estimated to be 0.87%.

Under federal legislation such as the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, the Housing Opportunity Program Extension Act of 1996, the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 (QHWRA) and implementation policies commonly adopted by housing authorities, a new era of restrictions on applicants has begun. QHWRA for example, codified powerful “one strike” prohibitions that deny admission to a family if any person who is expected to be a member of the household has a criminal conviction and a prescribed period of time after the conviction has not elapsed or if any member of the household has engaged in other specified behaviors regardless of whether that behavior resulted in criminal charges or conviction. To be sure, these policies have led to some sensible outcomes. They have also led to many that are not, i.e., where the excluding offense bears no relationship to the housing-based sanction.

The failure to create affordable housing options has led to increased pressure on the public housing market. Moreover, private housing is financially out of reach for many New Yorkers. In addition, private landlords and home owners increasingly perform background checks of housing applicants. These checks have become less expensive and more common because of technology. Even when these background checks reveal accurate information, and often they contain errors, they can have the effect of extending and escalating punishment for matters that all involved thought had been concluded.

In this, the Housing Subject Area, the goal is to support your efforts at more rational sentencing, competent counseling or authentic education. Here, you will find materials that further illuminate the collateral consequences that relate to housing. Where possible, those materials will be just a click away.